March 19, 2007
How to not get scammed
In the aggressively unfunny "Funny Pages" section of yesterday's NY Times Magazine was a great True-Life Tale from Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's legitimately funny weekend quiz show, "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me".
In the story, Sagal recounts a learning experience from his younger days, when an older respected writer friend gave him a crisp, new $100 bill to use for anything he needed to help his writing. Within seconds of dropping off the writer friend at the airport, he's already given 40% of it to a con artist.
It's a charming and self-deprecating story about how stupid he felt to not only have been duped by a sort-of attractive woman with a fake story (her invisible car broke down, she didn't have enough cash for a tow truck and the cops were about to ticket her if she didn't move her car), but to have continued playing along even after he knew she was lying: "I probably knew she was lying as soon as she got into my car. But by that point, it had become far easier to continue playing along than to call the whole thing off. She had worked so hard on her scheme that it seemed cruel to disappoint her. And of course, by suddenly expressing doubt, I would be admitting that I had been stupid enough to believe her to that point."
These kinds of scams seem to be incredibly common (other examples I've heard include "my car's brakes don't work and I need $19 to get a cab home" and the slightly more complex "I'm outside with two wardrobes and I lost my keys and need $20 to get a cab to my mother's apartment to get the extra set") and intelligent people sometimes fall for them. So if you are approached by someone asking for cash for some implausible emergency situation, you can do one of the following:
1) Blow them off;
2) Get some dark satisfaction out of playing along with their scam, but offering them the actual service they say they are in need of instead of money. Offer to call a cab or tow truck yourself and pay the driver directly, drive them to their mom's apartment, etc. This won't earn you any good karma, but will give the sick pleasure of watching the con artist's whole story disintegrate before your very eyes; or
3) If you happen to have some meth or gin in your pocket, or if you are a civic-minded prostitute, just skip the extra transaction and give the con artist what you both know they're really after.
If you want to get in on the other side, a good place to start is Simon Lovell's How to Cheat at Everything, a funny and practical guide to hustling.
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